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Guerrilla warfare

Guerrilla warfare is the irregular warfare and combat in which a small group of combatants use mobile military tactics in the form of ambushes and raids to combat a larger and less mobile formal army.

The guerrilla army uses ambush and mobility in attacking vulnerable targets in enemy territory. Guerrilla warfare is countered with counter-insurgency warfare.

This term means "little war" in Spanish and was created during the Peninsular War. The concept acknowledges a conflict between armed civilians against a powerful nation state army, either foreign or domestic.

The tactics of guerrilla warfare were used successfully in the 20th century by, among others, the People's Liberation Army in the Chinese Civil War, the Irish Republican Army during the Irish War of Independence, and Fidel Castro's rebel army in the Cuban Revolution. Most factions of the Iraqi Insurgency and groups such as FARC are said to be engaged in some form of guerrilla warfare.

Contents


Etymology

The Spanish guerrillero Juan Martín Díez, known by his nom de guerre, El Empecinado.
The Spanish guerrillero Juan Martín Díez, known by his nom de guerre, El Empecinado.
Statue of Juana Galán in Valdepeñas, Spanish woman guerrillere
Statue of Juana Galán in Valdepeñas, Spanish woman guerrillere

Guerrilla () is the diminutive of the Spanish word guerra "war". It derives from the Old High German word Werra or from the middle Dutch word warre; adopted by the Visigoths in A.D. 5th century Hispania.

The use of the diminutive evokes the differences in number, scale, and scope between the guerrilla army and the formal, professional army of the state.

An early example of this came when General John Burgoyne, who, during the Saratoga campaign of the American War of Independence, noted that in proceeding through dense woodland:

‘The enemy is infinitely inferior to the King’s Troop in open space, and hardy combat, is well fitted by disposition and practice, for the stratagems of enterprises of Little War...upon the same principle must be a constant rule, in or near woods to place advanced sentries, where they may have a tree or some other defence to prevent their being taken off by a single marksman.'

So conscious of hidden marksmen was Burgoyne that he asked his men, ‘When the Lieut’t General visits an outpost, the men are not to stand to their Arms or pay him any compliment’, clearly being aware he would be singled out.[1]

The word was thus not coined in Spain to describe resistance to Napoleon Bonaparte's French régime during the Peninsula War. Its meaning was however broadened to mean any similar-scale armed resistance.

Guerrillero is the Spanish word for guerrilla fighter, while in Spanish-speaking countries the noun guerrilla usually denotes guerrilla army (e.g. la guerrilla de las FARC translates as "the FARC guerrilla group"). Moreover, per the OED, 'the guerrilla was in English usage (as early as 1809), describing the fighters, not only their tactics (e.g."the town was taken by the guerrillas"). However, in most languages guerrilla still denotes the specific style of warfare.

Strategy, tactics and organization

The strategy and tactics of guerrilla warfare tend to focus around the use of a small, mobile force competing against a large, unwieldy one. The guerrilla focuses on organising in small units, dependent on the support of the local population.

Tactically, the guerrilla army attacks its enemy in small, repetitive attacks from the opponents center of gravity with a view to reducing casualties and becoming an intensive, repetitive strain on the enemies resources, forcing an over-eager response which will both anger their own supporters and increase support for the guerrilla, thus forcing the enemy to withdraw.

As a second part of the strategy, guerrilla fighters seek to become physically indistinguishable (Civilian Camouflage) from the communities through which they stage their attacks. Thus, by adopting the general customs & dress of the area they have infiltrated, they make it virtually impossible for an enemy force to distinguish friend from foe.

History

Boer guerrillas during the Second Boer War in South Africa.

Boer guerrillas during the Second Boer War in South Africa.
Since Classical Antiquity, when many strategies and tactics were used to fight foreign occupation that anticipated the modern guerrilla. An early example was the hit-and-run tactics employed by the nomadic Scythians of Central Asia against Darius the Great's Persian Achaemenid Empire and later against Alexander the Great's Macedonian Empire.

The Fabian strategy applied by the Roman Republic against Hannibal in the Second Punic War could be considered another early example of guerrilla tactics: After witnessing several disastrous defeats, assassinations and raiding parties, the Romans set aside the typical military doctrine of crushing the enemy in a single battle and initiated a successful, albeit unpopular, war of attrition against the Carthaginians that lasted for 83 years.

In expanding their own Empire, the Romans encountered numerous examples of guerrilla resistance to their legions as well.[2] The success of Judas Maccabeus in his rebellion against Seleucid rule was at least partly due to his mastery of irregular warfare.

The victory of the Basque forces against Charlemagne's army in the Battle of Roncevaux Pass, which gave birth to the Medieval myth of Roland, was due to effective use of a guerrilla principles in the mountain terrain of the Pyrenees. Mongols also faced irregulars composed of armed peasants in Hungary after the Battle of Mohi.

One of the most successful of the guerrilla campaigns was that of Robert the Bruce in the Scottish War of Independence when using strategies of ambushes, avoiding large battles, destroying enemy strongholds and using a scorched earth policy, the Scots forced the English out of Scotland without a single largescale battle until the Battle of Bannockburn eight years after the start of the war.[3]

In the 15th century, Vietnamese leader Le Loi launched a guerrilla war against the Chinese.[4] One of the most successful guerrilla wars against the invading Ottomans was led by Skanderbeg from 1443 to 1468. In 1443 he rallied Albanian forces and drove the Turks from his homeland. For 25 years Skanderbeg kept the Turks from retaking Albania, which due to its proximity to Italy, could easily have served as a springboard to the rest of Europe.[5] In 1462, the Ottomans were driven back by Wallachian prince Vlad III Dracula. Vlad was unable to stop the Turks from entering Wallachia, so he resorted to guerrilla war, constantly organizing small attacks and ambushes on the Turks.[6]

During the Deluge in Poland, guerrilla tactics were applied.[7] In the 100 years war between England and France, commander Bertrand du Guesclin used guerrilla tactics to pester the English invaders. The Frisian warlord Pier Gerlofs Donia fought a guerrilla conflict against Philip I of Castile[8] and with co-commander Wijerd Jelckama against Charles V.[9][10]

During the Dutch Revolt of the 16th century, the Geuzen waged a guerrilla war against the Spanish Empire.[11] During the Scanian War, a pro-Danish guerrilla group known as the Snapphane fought against the Swedes.

In 17th century Ireland, Irish irregulars called tories and rapparees used guerrilla warfare in the Irish Confederate Wars and the Williamite War in Ireland. Finnish guerrillas, sissis, fought against Russian occupation troops in the Great Northern War, 1700-1721. The Russians retaliated brutally against the civilian populace; the period is called Isoviha (Grand Hatred) in Finland.

In the 17th century, Marathas on the Indian peninsula under their leader Shivaji waged successful guerrilla war against the Mughal Empire then founded the Maratha Empire which lasted until superseded by the British Empire.

In the 17th and 18th century, Sikh fighters in the Punjab region waged successful guerrilla warfare against Mughal, Persian and Afghan invasions, until they founded the powerful Sikh empire under Ranjit Singh.

In the Irish War of Independence in 1919, Guerrilla warfare was used in a successful attempt to allow Ireland to set up it's own parliament and to leave Britain.

World War II

Hubal first guerilla commander of II World War
Hubal first guerilla commander of II World War

Many clandestine organizations (often known as resistance movements) operated in the countries occupied by Nazi Germany during the World War II. The first guerrilla commanders in the Second World War in Europe was Major Henryk Dobrzański "Hubal". In March 1940, a partisan unit leaded by Hubal completely destroyed a battalion of German infantry in a skirmish near the village of Huciska.[12][13] In the former Yugoslavia, guerrillas under General Draža Mihailović, known as Chetniks, joined the Germans in a guerrilla war against communist guerrillas under Josip Broz Tito and known as Partisans, who engaged the German and Chetnik troops in a guerrilla war. By 1944 the Polish resistance was thought to number 400,000.[14] The strength of the Soviet partisan units and formations can not be accurately estimated, but in Belarus alone is thought to have been in excess of 300,000.[15]

On the other side of the world, guerrilla forces in Southeast Asian countries were a mill stone around the neck of the Japanese. For example, tens of thousands of Japanese troops were committed to anti-guerrilla operations in the Philippines. Not only did this cause a drain on Japanese military resources, but the guerrillas prevented the Japanese from making the most effective use of the islands' resources (food, ore, civilian labor, etc.) in their war effort.[16][17]

Current and recent guerrilla conflicts

Present ongoing guerrilla wars, and regions facing guerrilla war activity include:

Asia:

Africa:

Latin America:

Europe:

Russia:

Counter-guerrilla warfare

Principles

The guerrilla can be difficult to beat, but certain principles of counter-insurgency warfare are well known since the 1950s and 1960s and have been successfully applied.

Classic guidelines

The widely distributed and influential work of Sir Robert Thompson, counter-insurgency expert of the Malayan Emergency, offers several such guidelines. Thompson's underlying assumption is that of a country minimally committed to the rule of law and better governance.

Some governments, however, give such considerations short shrift, and their counterguerrilla operations have involved mass murder, genocide, starvation and the massive spread of terror, torture and execution. The totalitarian regimes of Hitler are classic examples, as are more modern conflicts in places like Afghanistan.

In Afghanistan's anti-Mujahideen war for example, the Soviets implemented a ruthless policy of wastage and depopulation, driving over one third of the Afghan population into exile (over 5 million people), and carrying out widespread destruction of villages, granaries, crops, herds and irrigation systems, including the deadly and widespread mining of fields and pastures. See Wiki article Soviet war in Afghanistan.

Many modern countries employ manhunting doctrine to seek out and eliminate individual guerrillas. Elements of Thompson's moderate approach are adapted here:[18]

  1. The people are the key base to be secured and defended rather than territory won or enemy bodies counted. Contrary to the focus of conventional warfare, territory gained, or casualty counts are not of overriding importance in counter-guerrilla warfare. The support of the population is the key variable. Since many insurgents rely on the population for recruits, food, shelter, financing, and other materials, the counter-insurgent force must focus its efforts on providing physical and economic security for that population and defending it against insurgent attacks and propaganda.
  2. There must be a clear political counter-vision that can overshadow, match or neutralize the guerrilla vision. This can range from granting political autonomy, to economic development measures in the affected region. The vision must be an integrated approach, involving political, social and economic and media influence measures. A nationalist narrative for example, might be used in one situation, an ethnic autonomy approach in another. An aggressive media campaign must also be mounted in support of the competing vision or the counter-insurgent regime will appear weak or incompetent.
  3. Practical action must be taken at the lower levels to match the competitive political vision. It may be tempting for the counter-insurgent side to simply declare guerrillas "terrorists" and pursue a harsh liquidation strategy. Brute force however, may not be successful in the long run. Action does not mean capitulation, but sincere steps such as removing corrupt or arbitrary officials, cleaning up fraud, building more infrastructure, collecting taxes honestly, or addressing other legitimate grievances can do much to undermine the guerrillas' appeal.
  4. Economy of force. The counter-insurgent regime must not overreact to guerrilla provocations, since this may indeed be what they seek to create a crisis in civilian morale. Indiscriminate use of firepower may only serve to alienate the key focus of counterinsurgency- the base of the people. Police level actions should guide the effort and take place in a clear framework of legality, even if under a State of Emergency. Civil liberties and other customs of peacetime may have to be suspended, but again, the counter-insurgent regime must exercise restraint, and cleave to orderly procedures. In the counter-insurgency context, "boots on the ground" are even more important than technological prowess and massive firepower, although anti-guerrilla forces should take full advantage of modern air, artillery and electronic warfare assets.[19]
  5. Big unit action may sometimes be necessary. If police action is not sufficient to stop the guerrilla fighters, military sweeps may be necessary. Such "big battalion" operations may be needed to break up significant guerrilla concentrations and split them into small groups where combined civic-police action can control them.
  6. Aggressive mobility. Mobility and aggressive small unit action is extremely important for the counter-insurgent regime. Heavy formations must be lightened to aggressively locate, pursue and fix insurgent units. Huddling in static strongpoints simply concedes the field to the insurgents. They must be kept on the run constantly with aggressive patrols, raids, ambushes, sweeps, cordons, roadblocks, prisoner snatches, etc.
  7. Ground level embedding and integration. In tandem with mobility is the embedding of hardcore counter-insurgent units or troops with local security forces and civilian elements. The US Marines in Vietnam also saw some success with this method, under its CAP (Combined Action Program) where Marines were teamed as both trainers and "stiffeners" of local elements on the ground. US Special Forces in Vietnam like the Green Berets, also caused significant local problems for their opponents by their leadership and integration with mobile tribal and irregular forces.[20] The CIA's Special Activities Division created successful guerrilla forces from the Hmong tribe during the war in Vietnam in the 1960s,[21] from the Northern Alliance against the Taliban during the war in Afghanistan in 2001,[22] and from the Kurdish Peshmerga against Ansar al-Islam and the forces of Saddam Hussein during the war in Iraq in 2003.[23][24] In Iraq, the 2007 US "surge" strategy saw the embedding of regular and special forces troops among Iraqi army units. These hardcore groups were also incorporated into local neighborhood outposts in a bid to facilitate intelligence gathering, and to strengthen ground level support among the masses.[19]
  8. Cultural sensitivity. Counter-insurgent forces require familiarity with the local culture, mores and language or they will experience numerous difficulties. Americans experienced this in Vietnam and during the US Iraqi Freedom invasion and occupation, where shortages of Arabic speaking interpreters and translators hindered both civil and military operations.[25]
  9. Systematic intelligence effort. Every effort must be made to gather and organize useful intelligence. A systematic process must be set up to do so, from casual questioning of civilians to structured interrogations of prisoners. Creative measures must also be used, including the use of double agents, or even bogus "liberation" or sympathizer groups that help reveal insurgent personnel or operations.
  10. Methodical clear and hold. An "ink spot" clear and hold strategy must be used by the counter-insurgent regime, dividing the conflict area into sectors, and assigning priorities between them. Control must expand outward like an ink spot on paper, systematically neutralizing and eliminating the insurgents in one sector of the grid, before proceeding to the next. It may be necessary to pursue holding or defensive actions elsewhere, while priority areas are cleared and held.
  11. Careful deployment of mass popular forces and special units. Mass forces include village self-defence groups and citizen militias organized for community defence and can be useful in providing civic mobilization and local security. Specialist units can be used profitably, including commando squads, long range reconnaissance and "hunter-killer" patrols, defectors who can track or persuade their former colleagues like the Kit Carson units in Vietnam, and paramilitary style groups. Strict control must be kept over specialist units to prevent the emergence of violent vigilante style reprisal squads that undermine the government's program.
  12. The limits of foreign assistance must be clearly defined and carefully used. Such aid should be limited either by time, or as to material and technical, and personnel support, or both. While outside aid or even troops can be helpful, lack of clear limits, in terms of either a realistic plan for victory or exit strategy, may find the foreign helper "taking over" the local war, and being sucked into a lengthy commitment, thus providing the guerrillas with valuable propaganda opportunities as the stream of dead foreigners mounts. Such a scenario occurred with the US in Vietnam, with the American effort creating dependence in South Vietnam, and war weariness and protests back home. Heavy-handed foreign interference may also fail to operate effectively within the local cultural context, setting up conditions for failure.
  13. Time. A key factor in guerrilla strategy is a drawn-out, protracted conflict, that wears down the will of the opposing counter-insurgent forces. Democracies are especially vulnerable to the factor of time. The counter-insurgent force must allow enough time to get the job done. Impatient demands for victory centered around short-term electoral cycles play into the hands of the guerrillas, though it is equally important to recognize when a cause is lost and the guerrillas have won.

Variants

Some writers on counter-insurgency warfare emphasize the more turbulent nature of today's guerrilla warfare environment, where the clear political goals, parties and structures of such places as Vietnam, Malaysia, or El Salvador are not as prevalent. These writers point to numerous guerrilla conflicts that center around religious, ethnic or even criminal enterprise themes, and that do not lend themselves to the classic "national liberation" template.

The wide availability of the Internet has also cause changes in the tempo and mode of guerrilla operations in such areas as coordination of strikes, leveraging of financing, recruitment, and media manipulation. While the classic guidelines still apply, today's anti-guerrilla forces need to accept a more disruptive, disorderly and ambiguous mode of operation.

"Insurgents may not be seeking to overthrow the state, may have no coherent strategy or may pursue a faith-based approach difficult to counter with traditional methods. There may be numerous competing insurgencies in one theater, meaning that the counterinsurgent must control the overall environment rather than defeat a specific enemy. The actions of individuals and the propaganda effect of a subjective “single narrative” may far outweigh practical progress, rendering counterinsurgency even more non-linear and unpredictable than before. The counterinsurgent, not the insurgent, may initiate the conflict and represent the forces of revolutionary change. The economic relationship between insurgent and population may be diametrically opposed to classical theory. And insurgent tactics, based on exploiting the propaganda effects of urban bombing, may invalidate some classical tactics and render others, like patrolling, counterproductive under some circumstances. Thus, field evidence suggests, classical theory is necessary but not sufficient for success against contemporary insurgencies..."[26]

Influence on the arts

See also

Footnotes

Further References:

External links

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